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Showdown Nears in St. Paul Over Repealing Gay Rights Law

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A city ordinance banning discrimination against homosexuals faces a repeal vote Tuesday, the latest in a nationwide fight over gay rights legislation.

The St. Paul law, enacted in June, 1990, by the City Council, bans discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing, education and public services. Opponents succeeded in getting a repeal measure on the ballot, charging that the ordinance interferes with the rights of church and youth groups to hire whom they please.

A group called Citizens Alert contends that the ordinance provides special privileges to gays and lesbians. Group spokesman Bob Fletcher, a St. Paul police lieutenant and former City Council member, said the issue is not a moral one but “a good government issue. Should the government be involved in suing churches, homeowners and the Boy Scouts?”

The group’s literature, dropped in mailboxes and on cars in church parking lots throughout the city, argues that youth groups, churches and other religious institutions are compelled to hire homosexuals, contractors are required to apply affirmative action in hiring homosexuals, and “homeowners in duplexes . . . lose all discretion and good judgment regarding what type of lifestyle or behavior they choose to live next to.”

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St. Paul Mayor Jim Scheibel, as well as several churches and gay rights groups, said that the ordinance does not require affirmative action hiring guidelines and does allow churches and other groups to apply religious values in hiring decisions, at least for certain jobs.

The Citizens Alert campaign “leads people . . . to believe that human rights is a privilege,” Scheibel said at a recent news conference. “We’re not talking about privileges. We’re talking about basic human rights.”

“I’m really dismayed to see they can’t come out and say they really are for discrimination,” said Deborah Schlick, coordinator for Campaign 90s, a group defending the ordinance. “They are using smoke and mirrors and deception to frighten people into moving for the repeal.”

The fight here is the latest over civil rights legislation affecting homosexuals. According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, 115 such laws are on the books in cities, counties and states across the country, and a number of them are now under attack, including ordinances in Portland, Ore., Tampa, Fla., and Concord, Calif.

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The vote in St. Paul is expected to be close. In 1978, after a massive and impassioned media blitz and a “God and Decency” rally, St. Paul voters overturned by a 5-3 ratio a similar gay rights ordinance adopted in 1974.


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